CONCERNS were raised about the state of bus company RH Transport’s finances almost two months before it went into administration, it has emerged.
Copies of emails between County Hall staff released under the Freedom of Information act show officers spent weeks trying to get financial information from the firm, before ordering a credit check in August.
Witney-based RH Transport went into administration at the beginning of October, leaving hundreds of children without transport to and from school for a day and leaving almost 70 staff out of work.
The council had to arrange short term tenders running until June at a cost of around £400,000.
The organisation’s financial situation was discussed by council officers almost two months before the company folded. Council deputy leader and transport cabinet member Rodney Rose confirmed officers did a credit check on RH Transport during a tendering process.
But because the company was a partnership and not a limited company, Company’s House did not keep records of its accounts.
He said this was why it came back with an automatic “amber” warning, and not because the accounts showed any issues.
Officers then requested copies of the accounts from RH Transport.
Mr Rose said: “It was not a disaster because everyone got to school on time and the bus routes were back in place.”
But opposition councillors have raised concerns about the revelations, and have called for a change in working practices.
Deputy Lib Dem group leader and spokesman for transport Alan Armitage said: “Clearly the alarm system is not working.”
Richard Fairhurst, Charlbury Town Council transport representative, said: “People were generally not content either with the maintenance of the RH buses, which had a tendency to break down, or with the time-keeping.”
Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Owen Morton said the council undertakes credit checks on all contractors and does consider using those companies which score below 50 (RH Transport’s was 30) but service was also an issue.
He said: “There were some service issues reported to us by members of the public and also identified by the council’s own monitoring team. They were addressed on an individual basis.
“The council was not aware that RH Transport Services was in danger of being placed in administration at this point.
“Prior to this, the council was seeking further financial information from RH Transport Services following an earlier credit check.
“It is fair to state that in the event of unsatisfactory financial information being provided, the council would not have made any further contract awards.”
•August 2012: Several emails between council staff reveal the council was trying to get financial information from the company.
While many of the emails discussing the firm’s financial record were sent in relation to its bid to run services in Chipping Norton, other emails released show the council had received complaints about the services run by RH.
•August 6: An email between officers revealed the company had an “amber” credit score of 30, which is seen as a warning sign.